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HERALD, August, 1953
CAN HELP AN ALCOHOLIC
Keith De Folo
door slams: A man staggers into the house, reels toward
the living room, slumps on the sofa. His wife angrily throws
down the book she is reading and shouts: "Drunk again
Bill, I can't stand this any longer!"
grunts and shakes his head. He is lost in an alcoholic fog.
He falls back in his drunken stupor, oblivious to everything.
Lois springs her feet and hurtles across the room. Tears
pouring down her cheeks, she pounds on her husband's chest.
Bill! Bill! What are you doing to me? How can you be so
voice trails off in a sob that is a prayer. "Oh, God!
How is this going to end?"
was the nightly scene in the home of Lois and Bill before
Bill became one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous.
(only members know his last name.)
them the problem has been solved.
other families across the United States - nearly four million
others - are systematically being robbed of happiness by
the alcoholism of one or more of their members. Lois has
something to say to them that can and does transform their
technique is neither difficult nor mysterious: Bill was
the alcoholic; but he could never have made a comeback without
the help of Lois, the non-alcoholic. What she learned about
the wife's part in a husband's drinking startled her into
setting up the "Ladies Aid" of A.A. It's called
simply the Family Group," and it quietly preaches that
nagging, accusations and the tears of martyrdom are no way
to effect the recovery of an alcoholic relative.
approach that Lois learned the hard way and which the "Family
Group" is spreading, you can apply for - and to - yourself,
if there is an alcoholic in your household. During the past
two years this revolutionary technique has brought a new
and sober way of life to families all over America.
revolutionary because it turns the spotlight on the "innocent
partner - you. "Has your mates alcoholism made you
difficult to live with," they ask, "If so, better
clear up your own problem. Your recovery will hasten the
recovery of your husband or wife."
one knows better than Lois; how an alcoholic husband can
drive his wife to the very edge of despair. She learned
it firsthand, heard the dismal accounts time after time
as she toured the country's A.A. chapters with Bill. While
he met with alcoholics, she listened to their husbands and
wives. Talking out their troubles with one who had been
through the mill helped. In 1951, Lois tied these wives
and husbands together into an organization - the "Family
Group." It was a way to help folks avoid some of the
mistakes she and others had made.
Bill's amazing recovery in 1935, Lois supported and ruled
the house. Bill was like a child - almost totally dependent
upon her. In her multiple role of mother, nurse and wife,
Lois became domineering. For seventeen years Bill drank
steadily, and for seventeen years she pushed him into every
"cure" she could think of - medicine, books, psychiatry,
sanitariums. Bill always found another bottle.
was a nightmare. She screamed at him. She threw things -pots,
lamps, bookends, anything her hysterical hands touched.
From a poised helpful wife, Lois turned into a neurotic,
self-pitying creature. Bill, of course, lost every job.
In his late thirties, he was a human derelict, a hopeless
drunkard. Lois worked in a New York department store; doctor
and hospital bills had to be paid, and often Bill had to
be bailed out of jail. Lois often wondered how it would
one day it did all end - sharply and suddenly. An old school
pal of Bill's visited him. Once, he too, had been a hopeless
drunkard. Now he stood before Bill glowing and fresh skinned,
freed from the tight grip of alcohol. How had it happened?
answered the friend. "God pulled me out of the gutter.
I've come to tell you about it."
was the deepest experience in Bill's life. He was powerless
over alcohol, but there was a Higher Power waiting to be
newly found faith in God and himself yanked Bill away from
the bottle and kept him away. It was the beginning of Alcoholics
salvaging other alcoholics as he had been salvaged, Bill
found peace and happiness. But Lois was not completely happy.
Too long, she had dominated Bill. Suddenly, her job was
over. She recalls: "I was resentful. My life job of
sobering up Bill with all its responsibilities had been
taken from me. I had not discovered anything to fill the
found great benefit in attending religious meetings on Sunday
nights. To please him, Lois went along. Bill's meetings
had nothing to give her, she told herself.
Sunday, Bill said, "Hurry up, dear! We mustn't be late."
Angrily, Lois picked up a shoe and hurled it at her husband.
"I don't care about your old meetings!" she cried.
before the shoe hit the floor, it dawned upon Lois that
she was actually jealous of Bill's meetings! She resented
the new interest in his life which took up so much of his
time. While Bill was trying to get back to normal, Lois
was standing still. At that moment, she made a momentous
decision: "I climbed on the A.A. bandwagon and began
living by the same principles as Bill."
Lois applied A.A.'s "Twelve Steps" to her own
life, she wondered about the wives and husbands of other
alcoholics. Were they making the same mistakes she had made?
Were other wives
their husbands recovery by nagging, themselves twisted by
resentment, fear and self-pity?
of Lois' questioning sprang the "Clearing House"
for the Family Groups. Two-and-a-half years ago, Lois and
six other wives of alcoholics took over the loft of an old
stable in lower Manhattan. From here (and their mail address,
Box 1475, Grand Central Station, New York 17, N.Y.) a mountain
of sound advice in letter and booklet form has gone to fearful
and frustrated relatives all over the world.
of the letters, that pour in weekly is this one from a distraught
mother: "Please tell me what I can do to help my boy
stop drinking. He is only 28 and has left his wife. He is
our only child. Every night I pray for our son."
mother was immediately put in touch with the nearest Family
Group. From the Group, she secured literature which explained
alcoholism to her son and herself. Soon, her boy may go
to an A.A. meeting which could steer him to a new way of
life. The answer to her prayer is on the way.
"Clearing House" helps to organize a new Family
Group wherever there is a need. Often Lois "introduces"
by mail several non-alcoholics who live in the same town.
Out of this arises a Family Group that meets in a home or
a church basement.
there are nearly 500 Family Groups in the U.S., Canada and
overseas. Many a member has changed from a non-alcoholic
but nagging wife or neurotic husband into a normal human
being. The result: many alcoholics have stopped drinking
months and years sooner.
a pretty young housewife, has found serenity in the year
she has attended the Group in her town. Her husband, Tom,
an airplane mechanic, drank steadily for ten and a half
years. About a year ago Tom agreed to accompany a friend
to an A.A. meeting. Tom liked the men and women he met there
and has kept going. But occasionally, he slips off the A.A.
program and goes on an all-night spree. Does Joan get frantic
for a moment," she says. "I've learned to accept
whatever happens. I'm so grateful that his drinking is no
longer a nightly affair."
the Family Group discussions Joan has learned to control
her "fear wheels." If Tom doesn't come home at
5:30 from the factory, Joan no longer imagines the worst.
Instead, she prays: "God grant me the serenity to accept
the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things
I can; the wisdom to know one from the other."
Tom comes home with a "glow" Joan greets him with
a smile and a warm dinner. The old method was tears and
a fierce upbraiding. Her new attitude of acceptance shames
Tom, and takes the "kick" out of his bender. Tom
redoubles his efforts to stay sober.
is an advertising executive in New England who often tells
an exciting story at his local Group meeting. Once, he was
positive his wife was going insane. Nightly, he watched
Sarah drink herself into a blind stupor. He tried to reason
with her, and she laughed at him. He pleaded with her to
see a doctor. "Me sick," she cried indignantly.
From the Family Group, Jim learned not to antagonize her;
building up resentment in the alcoholic against the non-alcoholic
prolongs the drinking.
day, Sarah, in an impulse of despair, phoned A.A., and a
woman member came to her house that evening. Sarah learned
that she herself was an alcoholic - and a very sick one.
For today, most medical authorities say that alcoholism,
like diabetes, progresses unless it is checked. Unlike diabetes,
there is no "insulin" for alcoholism. The only
prevention and cure is total abstinence from all liquor.
the help of A.A., Sarah began her comeback.
Jim and Sarah went to a party. As a trayful of cocktails
was passed, Jim whispered: "Careful, dear! Better not
take that one!" Sarah didn't, but she glared at him.
At home, she rebuked Jim for his lack of faith in her. The
Family Group gave him the same rapping of knuckles: distrust
of the alcoholic who is trying to recover will often drive
him or her backward. Today, Jim gives Sarah his confidence
and she's responding.
husband used to drink every evening. Before she got into
her local Family Group, she constantly lashed at Hugh with
her sharp tongue. Over the years, her resentment against
his drinking mounted. She accused him of drinking deliberately
to wreck their marriage because he was in love with another
false accusations and lack of understanding of the craving
that drove him to drink almost toppled the marriage she
so much wanted to preserve. Eventually, Hugh never came
home unless he was drunk enough to be insulated against
her outbursts of temper.
attending the Group meetings, Maria no longer scolds Hugh
- and he comes home earlier and is more often sober. He
remarks about the happy changes in her. Maria tries to show
him patience and forgiveness. She now knows that he is desperately
" sick" - that only her love for Hugh and their
faith in God will lead him to sobriety. Soon her tender
guidance may bring Hugh to recovery.
years of drinking has left a scar on the home of the Browns,
who live in a fashionable suburb of Philadelphia. While
in his twenties, Mr. Brown was made sales manager of the
branch of his firm. There was only one thing wrong with
the promotion: an unlimited expense account. The loud wailing
of his wife did not halt the round of long, lavish parties
he began giving. Soon he was drinking before breakfast.
wife nagged, pleaded, fought, left him and returned. But
he could not stop drinking. He lost the Chicago job. The
next twenty years were a series of binges, short-term employment,
illnesses. His wife supported the family by teaching school.
When her health broke, his family rescued them.
those dark years, Mrs. Brown tried to "hide" her
husband from their two children. But the little boy and
girl knew that tragedy ruled the house. As the boy reached
adolescence, he looked for a father and was rebuffed by
a drunken sot. The boy retreated within himself, grew insecure,
leaned on his mother. The daughter adopted the domineering
"mother" role. She repeatedly lectured her drunken
father until he stormed out of the house and headed for
the nearest bar.
years ago, Mr. Brown found A.A. While his family is grateful
for his new sobriety, it is grateful also for the opportunity
of emotional recovery in their own lives. Both mother and
daughter attend Family Group meetings in Philadelphia and
are trying to overcome their old attitudes. The son, however,
may be irreparably damaged; he remains hostile towards his
father who disappointed him so many times.
the wife of an insurance salesman, was another drinker who
made her whole family neurotic. Pete, her husband, didn't
know how to help. He reacted to her drinking with violent
denunciations or stony silence. Both tactics infuriated
Mildred and she began to drink more heavily.
Pete heard about A.A., he made another mistake. He tried
to push his wife into it. Naturally, she rebelled. He didn't
understand that A.A. can work only if the alcoholic wants
to stop drinking. Pete's children imitated their father's
evening, Mildred wandered skeptically into an A.A. meeting.
What she heard other alcoholics say gave her a strong lasting
jolt. Today Mildred is a shining testimony to A.A.
her family's problems are not yet over. After fifteen years
of steady drinking, Mildred's body feels the lack of alcohol.
Often, she is tense and nervous. When she is depressed,
she snaps at her children. The Family Group is helping Pete
and the youngsters to show love and patience toward Mildred
in her moments of stress. Pete's disposition has improved;
the children do not "sass" their mother anymore.
alcoholics, once they stop drinking, suffer acutely from
insomnia and wild hallucinations. While these are hard to
endure, the family must realize that such ailments are a
natural part of the alcoholic's convalescence.
and Maria and Mrs. Brown are only a few of the few of the
folks who are finding new attitudes through the Family Group.
What they are learning, you, if you have a similar problem,
may try out for yourself.
it is a waste of time to lecture an alcoholic. Don't hide
or throw away his bottle. The alcoholic who wants to drink
will get it even if he has to steal.
from nagging or "bossing." Nor do you have to
swing too far the other way, inundating him with affection.
Aim for a happy medium - admittedly not easy, but made possible
by the knowledge that a home and life may hang in the balance.
push an alcoholic into A.A. He will resent any overt attempt
on your part to "cure" him. He must take the first
attendance is an important therapy for both of you. The
recovered alcoholic makes a good church member, because
he knows he must depend upon a Strength greater than his
so must you. With the proper attitude you can hasten the
day of his recovery. Deep love and a daily-renewed faith
can, by the grace of God, give you that attitude.